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Ballparks, Branches and the Future of Banking

A lot has been written lately — with far, far more to come — about the future of branches for retail banks and credit unions alike.

How will brick & mortar branches be re-designed? What will be the mix between human and virtual service? Are technology-only branches with no employees the future? And perhaps most importantly, will branches even be required at all?

To that last question, I say yes. And not simply because our company was founded to expressly serve the real estate needs of credit unions. But because I believe that, regardless of the Online/Virtual/Cloud/eSign/ world we now live in, the need for human interaction remains an existential thing.  

I am writing this in mid-Spring, 2021. After more than a year of living – like nearly everyone – amidst constant concern of contact with other humans, vaccines are rapidly getting into arms and people are getting out and together.  

Case in point: One night last week in Arlington, Texas, more than 40,000 fans sat shoulder-to-shoulder in sold out Globe Life Field for an early season baseball game between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. On a Monday night; a work night, a school night.

It’s a People Thing

They didn’t go because a pennant was already on the line. Rather, they went because they could. Because they were craving the connection that exists between people inside a place.

Banking branches aren’t ballparks, but …

Point being, all you need to do is squint a little to see what this means for banking. Yes, like a ballgame, people today can watch from anywhere. As for banking, people can technically be anywhere to conduct their transactions.

But here’s the thing – especially for credit unions – people feel that branches are where their money resides. Where their mortgage is funded, their cars leased, their kids’ braces paid for, their retirement secured. All life priorities that require money. So even if they don’t often go to a branch, they know they can which – like their favorite team – keeps them connected.

And like a ballpark on a spring evening, people also want interaction with others when it comes to their money. In this case, with those who have a vested interest in helping to ensure that they — the members — receive service in a manner that is clear, effective, complete and face-to-face.

Not Or – It’s And

As a result, members will continue “going to the bank.” Even though an errand is involved, they will do it because they still perceive that, in many cases, in-person banking is more effective than on-line banking. That the advice and service they receive is more thoughtful and complete. And that they come away with a greater sense of satisfaction and peace-of-mind from personally interacting with someone who knows their needs and their name.  

This interaction is what differentiates credit unions from banks and will continue to do so in the future. For this reason, I firmly believe that the question isn’t whether the future of banking is bricks & mortar or virtual. It’s And.

It’s bricks & mortar and virtual. It’s banking in the palm of a hand and meeting with a credit union financial advisor face-to-face. It’s whatever is required to optimize the member experience delivered in ways that reflect your membership today along with your ideal membership of tomorrow.

All of which needs to be planned. If self-service technology resides within your branch, there has to be a strategy in place to ensure that your members feel comfortable with it – especially early on. That you are encouraging its use because it will be better and faster for them, not for you. There has to be awareness among every member of your team that technology is not a replacement for personal service but a value-added option. An “and” rather than an “or.”

As I write, management consultants and space planners are all researching, writing and developing scenarios for the future of banking and branching. Some will be right; most will not.

Those who are not will err because they drank the Kool-Aid that tomorrow’s world will be mainly virtual and that people will be just fine navigating apps for everything and then pressing Enter.

To those in that camp, I say watch a ballgame in Texas and the tens of thousands of people who prefer to enter a real environment instead of hitting an Enter key.

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